Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 23rd

I've become a regular reader of Denyse O'Leary, Toronto-based author and blogger. She's a regular contributor (the most regular contributor) to the intelligent design blog of Bill Dembski and friends, Uncommon Descent. She also hosts two blogs of her own, The Post-Darwinist and The Mindful Hack. The latter provides a non-materialist look at mind/brain issues, much as does the excellent book O'Leary recently coauthored with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, The Spiritual Brain.

I got a big kick out of Denyse's post at Uncommon Descent today. It seems a reporter from the Toronto Star called to ask her how Christians were planning to celebrate today (October 23rd). She didn't know what he was getting at, so he explained that he figured she, as a fundamentalist Christian, could tell him how Christians planned to commemorate the date that Anglican bishop James Ussher and Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor John Lightfoot long ago concluded was the date on which creation occurred.

O'Leary patiently explained (among other things) that she is a Catholic (and thus not a fundamentalist) and an Old-Earth Creationist (not a Young-Earth Creationist). Further, she explained that she knows of no Young-Earth Creationist who believes Lightfoot and Ussher to have been right in their calculations.

Nor do I. But it is amazing how a few, well-funded and very vocal Christians can lead unbelievers to think that the Bible teaches that the universe is only thousands of years old.

There were, of course, a number of wrong assumptions associated with Ussher's and Lightfoot's calculations. (It was actually Lightfoot who said that Adam was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, and even proposed a precise hour for that event!). One misassumption still shared by many English-speaking Christians is the demonstrably false view that the Old Testament genealogies were complete or were meant to serve the same purpose served by our modern attempts at establishing genealogies.

Comparison of the genealogies leads inevitably to the conclusion that biblical genealogies are not (and were not intended to be) complete. In Genesis 11, for example, there are ten names in the line from Seth to Abram (inclusively); in Luke 3, there are eleven names in the same genealogy, with Cainan inserted between Arphaxad and Shelad. The genealogy recorded in Matt. 1:8 has Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Uzziah, whereas 1 Chr. 3:10-12 inserts Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah between Jehoram and Uzziah. Hebrew scholars recognize that such genealogies were never intended to record complete family lines (as our modern genealogies would aspire to). The words translated “father” and “son” have much broader meaning in the Hebrew, and can mean “ancestor” and “descendant” as well as “father” and “son.” In some cases, the meaning is even broader--in Daniel 5:2, Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the “father” of Belshazzar, though Belshazzar’s immediate father was Nabonidus, and he wasn’t even a biological descendant of Nebuchadnezzar (but, rather, simply a descendant to his throne).

The gaps in the Hebrew genealogies indicate that it is foolish to attempt to reconstruct a date for even the creation of Adam (let alone the universe itself). And while there remains much debate about how many generations are omitted, the scientific evidence (from genetics, archaeology, and such) still indicates that the first humans were created only tens of thousands of years ago (not millions, as required by evolutionary theory).

Still looking for something to celebrate this October 23rd? How about this... Celebrate the fact that as Christians who believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture we need not defend the view that the creation occurred only 6,000 years ago. The Bible--rightly understood--comes nowhere near teaching such a view, much less one that proclaims a date of October 23rd.

1 comment:

Denyse said...

Rick, thank you much for your kind words about my comments at Uncommon Descent, and all the more for your valuable information about biblical genealogies.

I had been given to understand that the latter sometimes skipped a generation or so, but am much indebted for the examples.